Climate change saviors accused of patent monopoly

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food and agriculture organization, Food security

The world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations are
monopolizing patents on genes that could protect crops from climate
change, a new report claims.

The world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations are monopolizing patents on genes that could protect crops from climate change, a new report claims. The "corporate grab"​ of genetically engineered "climate tolerant"​ seeds means that just a handful of companies could end up controlling the price and access to technologies which guard against environmental extremes, according to the ETC Group, which assesses the impact of new technologies on socioeconomic and ecological issues. BASF, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and biotech partners have filed 532 patent documents (a total of 55 patent families) on so-called "climate ready"​ genes at patent offices around the world, said the report called Patenting the "Climate Genes" and Capturing the Climate Agenda.​ Monsanto (the world's largest seed company) and BASF (the world's largest chemical firm) have forged a $1.5 billion partnership to engineer stress tolerance in plants and together they account for 27 of the 55 patent families (or 49 percent) identified by ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), which is based in Canada. Overall, the patents focused on climate-proof genes associated with environmental stresses encountered by plants such as drought, temperature extremes, saline soils and low nitrogen, which could be pushed as a "silver bullet" solution to climate change. However, the report warned: "These proprietary technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds." ​In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the group is now calling for governments to suspend all patents on climate-related genes and traits and conduct a full investigation. Food insecurity is understood to affect some 850m people around the world and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has raised concerns about the impact of climate change, food prices, and biofuels. The top 10 seed companies control 57 per cent of the global seed market and farmers in the US already pay premium prices for biotech seeds that are loaded with up to three genetic traits. One example highlighted by ETC is Monsanto's "triple-stacked"​ biotech maize seed which sells for about $245 per bag - compared to $100 for conventional maize seed. A Monsanto spokeswoman said it aimed to be generous, whilst recognizing its obligations to shareholders. She added: "Currently Monsanto products are used by 25 million farmers globally and our biotech enhanced seeds reach 5 to 7 million farmers. We are active in humanitarian efforts and will work to help address food security problems, whether through the sharing of scientific information generally or a partnership focused on sharing germplasm and technology."​ Denise Dewar, executive director for plant biotechnology at CropLife International, which represents the plant science industry, said intellectual property protection was necessary to reward innovation. Dewar added: "Plant biotechnology offers significant and tangible benefits to farmers, consumers, and the environment, from increased production, to improved food quality, increased farmer incomes, and reduction in the environmental impacts of agriculture. "Researchers worldwide are developing biotech crops that can handle the stress of extreme climates and drought, as well as continue to produce high yields."

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